“I Can’t Write.”: Lies I Tell Myself Sometimes

I struggled with my writing this semester. This is a confusing and (sort of) funny announcement when I look back at last month’s post about my success in publishing. What began with unexpected criticism about my writing in late August spiraled … Continue reading

Writing Stuff. All the Time.

In case you missed it, I’ve been writing quite a bit since the beginning of summer. Some of which has actually been published! Here’s a round-up in case you missed them.

June

I contributed a bit to Julia Skinner’s post for Hack Library SchoolWhy We Decided on the PhD“. Just a couple of sentences from me about (obviously) why I decided to pursue an doctoral degree. There are many reasons NOT do go this route. Julia is a doctoral candidate in my program; and she’s very knowledgeable about so many things!

July

I wrote a guest post for the Letters to a Young Librarian blog called, “Politics Schmolitics! What Does Politics Have to do With Libraries?” My first librarian position was in a small rural library system. My MLIS program didn’t prepare me for the amount of politics (local and state) involved in public libraries. Only working in a library can teach you that.

September

Preliming: Before & After

This is what I wrote the night before my prelims began:

Tomorrow is the first day of my preliminary exam, an exam I have been stressing about (probably most PhD students do) since I began the doctoral program. In my program, this is a seven day exam during which I write a heck of a lot about four different areas: major, minor, theory, and research method. The prelim exam marks the completion of my coursework (go team!) when I’m expected to generally know what I want to do my dissertation on and sound reasonably confident when talking about it. If you would like to know exactly what my prelim exam is all about (why?), here’s an excerpt from my school’s doctoral guidelines:

Examination criteria generally relate to the following factors:
• mastery of specific knowledge in an area of specialization;
• familiarity with current trends in that area;
• knowledge of scholarly investigation in that area;
• knowledge of the interrelationships between the minor field and the area of specialization
(if the student has a minor area of specialization: see Section 5.3); and
• ability to relate the selected area of specialization to larger domains of knowledge and
scholarship

I didn’t sleep well last night and probably won’t tonight. But sometimes writing is helpful in moments of dread/panic/anticipation/nerves, so I’ve decided to give it a go. Being the overly organized person that I am, I’ve developed an exam schedule for myself which looks like this: Wake-Up, Gym, Coffee Shop, Write x 8, Home, Sleep. Food fits in this schedule somewhere, just not sure. Logically, I know I shouldn’t be as stressed out as much as I am. My committee would never have let me schedule my exam if I weren’t ready. This exam is nothing more than a way to demonstrate what I’ve learned during my first two years and my “mastery” of LIS (eh?).

However, the following irrational thoughts keep going through my mind. Irrational thought one: What if I completely blank? What if I forget everything or encounter the worst writer’s block of my life? Irrational thought two: What if I just can’t do it? What this is too much for me to accomplish? Irrational thought three: What if I become terribly sick (like a migraine)? What if everything horrible happens??

And this is what actually happened:

Well….it wasn’t the worst thing that I’ve ever experienced. Nothing terrible happened. I wrote a lot. Everyday. ALL DAY. I expected that. What I didn’t expect is my ability to focus so intensely on one task. Maybe I can do this dissertation thing after all. But probably not in a week.

Towards the end of the first day, I didn’t think I could finish the exam. I had stressed myself out to a degree that doesn’t make sense to me now. Seven days of this exam seemed too much. My poor brain felt so tired; and words seem confusing. During the evening, I watched/stared at the most terrible and mindless T.V. shows on Netflix (Deadly Women = the worst/greatest show, acting, and wigs I’ve ever seen). But after the second day, it all became routine. A tiring and coffee-fueled routine, but a do-able routine. One good realization that came out of my exam taking is I know a lot about a few very narrow areas.

Along with all this, I placed myself on a Facebook and Twitter (my sites of addiction) ban for the entire seven days of the exam. I KNEW social media would be a distraction for me. I couldn’t afford any sort of online interruptions. When I want to avoid writing, I goof around on….or research social media. But, surprisingly, staying off Facebook and Twitter isn’t that difficult (at least it wasn’t for me). I did feel out of the loop on friend news, current events, and random stuff, but otherwise, not so much. Occasionally during my social media exile a friend would ask if I had seen something on Facebook. I would respond in the nicest and most thoughtful way, “No. I HAVEN’T. UGH. PEOPLE.”

I’m planning to write more about this social media withdrawal experience soon, and maybe try it out again. Although, I bet my Klout score suffered….

P.S. I have so many wonderful people in my life who offered me so much encouragement during the exam. I greatly appreciate the kind words, high fives, cheerleading, and writing sessions.

P.S.S. Oddly enough, during those last two nights, I would dream about the exam and came up with new ideas for my writing. Of course, when I woke up I couldn’t remember anything except the sad realization that even in sleep I couldn’t be free from prelims.

I’m a Newbie Published Author!

I’m officially a published author as of last Thursday. My first peer-reviewed journal article has been published in the Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults (JRLYA). It’s a very exciting/intimidating experience to see your name in print, out there in the world for anyone to read. The peer-reviewed publication process is (unsurprisingly) long and challenging. After submitted a paper, there’s the sometimes lengthy wait to hear whether it has been accepted, accepted with major/minor edits, or rejected. Then there’s the peer-reviews, which are a delightfully agonizing read. After a back and forth of changes and corrections, your paper is okayed for publication. Copyright forms are figured out (I’m confused by legalese) and signed. Followed by another wait for your article to actually be published.

Luckily, I’ve had terrific experiences with JRLYA, Journal of Education for Library and Information Studies (JELIS), and Public Libraries Quarterly (PLQ). The editors are friendly, encouraging, and understanding. This is exactly what I (and probably many other writers need). Having your writing read, judged, and openly critiqued is uncomfortable. I blogged about my experience with the peer-reviews I received from this JRLYA article back in November. As a perfectionist by nature, I’m already prone to intense self-criticism and doubt. Peer-reviews rarely help ease these feelings. But I’m learning to make peace with peer-reviews. Well…as much as I can.

I’ve also deposited my article into the Diginole Commons, FSU’s virtual repository for electronic scholarship. I love the idea of providing open access to my work. For some reason do this makes me feel even more a part of a research community. I look forward to depositing more in the near future. My article in PLQ comes out in September, and another article will appear in JELIS in October. Hard work can pay off. I could gush more about writing and publishing, but I’ll contain my enthusiasm. I’m only jumping up and down a little bit right now. And nobody can see….

Read my article, More Than Just Books: Librarians as a Source of Support for Cyberbullied Young Adults, via the link below. You know you want to! Yes you do.

http://www.yalsa.ala.org/jrlya/2014/05/more-than-just-books-librarians-as-a-source-of-support-for-cyberbullied-young-adults/

Guest Blogging for Overworked TA

I’ll be guest blogging for Overworked TA over the next couple of months. My first post, published last Friday, is called Don’t Panic! It’s Only Your 1st Semester as a Doc Student.

Blurb about the post:

“This guest post provides guidance and suggestions on what to expect and how to cope during the first year of a doctoral program. Although this experience can be challenging, stressful, and anxiety provoking, don’t panic! This post will provide some words of wisdom(ish) from someone who has survived and thrived during that first year.”

I’m looking forward to writing more about my experiences as a doctoral student for this wonderful blog. Please keep an eye out for my future posts!

On Structured & Unstructured Chaos

Now that I’ve completed the coursework portion of my doctoral life, I’ve lost the structure of designated class meetings, assignment due dates, and syllabi. Now I’ve entered the unstructured world of independent study and writing. This semester I’ve been gearing up for my prelim statements, working on a pilot study, and writing (writing, writing, writing….). It’s been a significant adjustment from the first year and a half of the doc program. I have been surprised at how much of a challenge this change has been for me. I’ve always prided myself at being an independent worker, working best without a rigid schedule. I struggled in a 9 to 5 work environment, so more flexible schedule of the doctoral program has been a welcomed relief. But with this freedom has come more responsibility and a bit of chaos.

For the most part, my educational career, from elementary school to PhD, has been designed for me by an instructor. Usually, I didn’t have much input into what the assignments were, how the information was presented, or how I could organize my time. Over the course of this semester, I’ve learned (slowly) how to develop my own schedule, complete with self-imposed flexible deadlines. Last week I shared some of  my anxieties over the unstructuredness of this semester with a couple of doc students. It seems to be a shared feeling. I felt much better about myself after learning this! While we have always been good students, it has been within the confines of an organized and pre-planned coursework. At first, this relatively complete freedom is somewhat terrifying. It’s an intimidating load to take on, especially after an intense couple of semesters worth of coursework. For me, it feels as though I’m trying to multitask at an nth degree. I’ve never been a believer in multitasking, but I keep finding myself trying to juggle all these different tasks. Over and over again I would construct a to-do list that would only result in stressing me out more. The opposite of helping me get anything done. But after this initial nervousness and confusion, I think I have figured out how I can organize it all (for the most part). My approach is not easy, pretty, or even logical to other people. But it works for me and I’m finishing stuff. The chaos has been managed(ish).

Part of my approach is to cut myself some slack. My perfectionism has a habit of sneaking in and preventing me from working as confidently as I’d like. Nobody expects perfection, so why should I?

Dealing With Criticism (or Hearing Back From Peer Reviewers)

In September, I submitted my first ever manuscript to an academic journal. That was exciting! Some time after, I heard back from the journal. My manuscript has been tentatively accepted  (that’s good!). One of the reviewers had very positive, encouraging comments about my manuscript and only recommended minor changes  (also good!).  But then there was the other reviewer. This individual had even more comments, many of which were negative, and suggested major changes to the manuscript before possible publication (this is not good).  My first response after reading these reviews was simple exhaustion. I worked so hard on this manuscript and had reached a point where I could only look at it sadly while shaking my head. I could not begin to contemplate making major changes to it. My major professor recommended that I step away from the reviews for a few days and then come back to them (hopefully less emotionally).

And I that’s what I did. Since I’ve come back to the reviews, I find myself still struggling with the criticism. How could two individuals have such different opinions on my topics, method, writing, and sources? How could they know my research area throughly enough to provide me with solid, relevant suggestions when I’ve been reading, thinking, and writing about it for months? This is also my first experience with peer reviews, which means there is a lot that I just don’t understand. So much. Mostly, I struggle to accept the criticism. I imagine it gets easier the more manuscripts you submit, the more research you share at conferences, and the more involved you become in the academic community. But knowing this doesn’t help the present feelings I’m experiencing: inadequacy, confusion, and frustration. As someone who has never accepted criticism without tears or frustration, knowing putting myself out there for certain criticism (usually constructive!) is very very hard. I imagine that there are many, many researchers who are struggling with these same issues. To end on a positive note, the semester is coming to an end, which means no classes, plenty of time for catch up work, and (possible) fun reading. Also, I have another paper under peer review so…. *cue suspenseful music*

How do you deal with constructive criticism (or just plan criticism)? Does this process get easier or do you just develop a tougher skin? Any suggestions on how to approach peer reviews in a more objective manner? 

Falling In Love With an Article (And Other Strange Experiences)

I feel as if this post is a bit of a nerd confession. I fell in love with a journal article during my spring semester of the doctoral program. In addition to the wonders of this article, I look forward to using  the diary-interview method in my research on young adults one day. Here is the citation for this glorious article:

Zimmerman, D. (1977). The diary: “Diary-interview method.” Urban Life, 5(4), 479–489.

The Zimmerman article for your reading pleasure

Part of me loves Zimmerman’s writing because it reads (at least to me) slightly cheeky. I have a great appreciation for humor in scholarly work. It’s difficult to pull it off and I’m not entirely sure humor is “approved” of in academic writing.  After reading so many well-written but dense and dry during my first year , coming across a piece of writing that studies “the counter-culture” and asks the question, “why had a particular diarist not gotten stoned before going to a Chinese restaurant…” (1977, p. 492). Why not indeed.

Along with this unusual (?) love, I’ve become drawn to a few theories . It has been an interesting experience to find myself fascinated by an area that only a year I found extremely intimidating. Savolainen’s Everyday Life Information Seeking, Dervin’s Sense-Making, and  Siemen’s Connectivism. Maybe lecturing undergrads on IB models inspired me more than it did anyone else….

Other current social media and tech obsessions include infographics, 3D printers, MakerSpaces, and memes (of the cat variety in particular).

In closing, I will leave you with my favorite quote from Zimmerman’s article.

We should note that if the diaries we collected were to be constructed as exhaustive records of the diarists’ activities, we would have to conclude that this group was characterized by extraordinary bladder and bowel capabilities, since no instance of the elemental act of elimination was reported.” (Zimmerman, 1997, p. 487).

Anyone else have a strange love or obsession? Am I all alone in my strangeness?

A Post In Which I Stress About My Disseration Unnecessarily

Now that I’m in my second year of the doctoral program, I’ve been asked more and more about my dissertation topic. So far my reply has been somewhat vague and confusing (both to me and to the person). Usually I respond with words like ‘social media’, ‘young adults’, ‘informal learning’, and ‘libraries’. This doesn’t feel or sound like the correct response for a second year doctoral student. I have so many research ideas and curiosities that it is hard to wrap my mind around the idea of narrowing it down to just one focus. Then, I start to think, “should I have a complete and well honed dissertation title? Has everyone else in my cohort figured out exactly what direction they going with their dissertation? where should I go with this? what am I suppose to say!?!?”. If there is one thing I’m a professional at, it’s becoming pointlessly anxious about pretty much anything. It’s all too easy for me to compare where I am in my work with other doctoral students and stress out about how far behind I am (or seem to be). This is probably a common activity among doctoral students. I tell myself that anyway.

Luckily, this week I met with my major professor, settling some of my anxieties and concerns.  I even have a few theories that I’m excited about researching more. I feel much more comfortable with the direction I’m heading, even though I still have some uncertainties and confusions. At least my dissertation topic is better than these. Although it’s definitely less interesting and not nearly as sexy. I imagine I will continue to adjust and modify my dissertation focus, at least a little bit. This is probably the norm. Right??? Now, hopefully, my response when people ask about my dissertation will be slight more intelligent and focused (at least sound like it is…). At this point, I still have a lot of thinking to do about my dissertation, so don’t ask me about it just yet! If you do, I imagine I will still look at you blankly (probably for just a few seconds anyway).

For my fellow doctoral students: At what point in the program did you figure out your dissertation topic? How do/did you respond to people who ask/asked about your dissertation as you were figuring out where to go with it? What do you stress or feel anxious about as far as your dissertation goes?

Hopefully not me. But I understand the feeling.

Hopefully not me. But I understand the feeling.

Learning to Write Without Fear (For the Most Part….)

Since I officially submitted my first manuscript for publication on last week, I feel the need to blog about writing and writing related activities. The knowledge that my poor, sweet little paper is awaiting review by anonymous researchers who may (or may not) tear my writing and research apart is terrifying. For me, the entire writing process is filled with a mixture of excitement, dread, and stress. The stress comes from the blank page on my screen, especially when writing that first paragraph. At that point, everything I writes sounds trite and unimpressive. Usually I push through, writing down whatever comes to mind and returning when I’ve written enough that the pressure to perform is slightly less intense. The dread comes from completing a research paper, article, or blog post and knowing that I have to come up with something else to research and write about. Even with something as simple and informal as a blog post I still feel a slight anxiety about what to write next. Additionally, I worry whether or not what I blog will be interesting to my audience. (Eh. Probably not? Maybe?)

Asking others to proofread my work is a bit of a nail bitter as well. Sometimes it feels physically painful. It’s uncomfortable to give up the work that you stressed and slaved over to the criticisms of a friend, colleague, etc. But it’s a necessary evil. Hopefully, the criticisms are constructive and helpful. After a long period of nervousness about proofreading, I’ve reached the point where I’m asking my (very kind and giving) proofreaders to give my writing a serious ripping apart. It can only benefit me in the end. If they don’t do it, someone else will. (On a side note, getting undergrads to understand the concept and importance of proofreading may be impossible or at least really, really, really, hard and disappointing.)

Generally what I look like while writing.

Generally what I look like while writing.

How did you learn to write without fear? How did you overcome the fear of knowing others will read your work? What does you writing process look like? What do you do that makes you comfortable while writing? Unless I’m the only person who has writing nerves, which is very possible.